The market for transforming tablets is heating up

The Asus Transformer, a laptop that transforms into a tablet. (Gadget)

The Asus Transformer, a laptop that transforms into a tablet. (Gadget)

The Transformers movies were inspired by a line of toys but, in the tablet world, the thrust of transformers is towards convincing users that these pads are not toys. By latching a tablet onto a laptop-style keyboard, the impression is given that the device is a laptop – until the screen is unclipped and becomes just a touchscreen tablet.

Asus was the first to push the concept onto the market with its Eee Pad Transformer back in 2011, and has slowly been improving both the general concept and the pricing. Numerous options from both Asus and its competitors are available now.
By sheer coincidence, though, two new directly comparable – and different – alternatives arrived in our office in the same week.

The latest Asus Transformer Pad, the TF103C, and a new tablet/keyboard from South African computer assembly specialists Mecer, the B26T Windows Tablet, come in at almost the same price, too: each retails at between R3 900 and R4 500 in South Africa.

Spec-by-spec
Given the equivalent price, it appears to come down to a spec-by-spec comparison, but there is more to this picture than just, well, the picture. But let’s look at those specs first:

Each has a 10.1-inch screen with 800x1 280 HD display. Both have a two-megapixel rear camera, while the Mecer’s two-megapixel front camera edges out the Asus VGA front camera. Both offer 9-10 hours battery life, 1GB RAM, and Intel Quad-Core processors with a minor variation in speed – 1.83GHz in the Mecer vs 1.86GHz in the Asus. Closer than that you don’t get.

They are set apart by two fundamental differences. The first appears cosmetic: when folded up, the Asus looks like a laptop. The Mecer keyboard, however, doubles up as a cover in its own right, funtioning in the same way as an iPad Smart Case. It’s a soft cover that can be folded over the device, or folded back into various shapes and formats for better typing, viewing or reading comfort.

The Mecer screen clips onto the keyboard magnetically, whereas the Asus uses a mechanical clip.

There is no question the Mecer looks more professional, with a quality feel, while the Asus looks its price. However, this remains a matter of choice: Some will prefer the hardier nature of the Asus laptop style.

Android vs Windows
The second fundamental difference, however, is likely to be the one that makes all the difference. The Asus is an Android device, running on version 4.4.2, better known as KitKat, while the Mecer is a Microsoft machine, running on Windows 8.1. 

This means that the Asus takes advantage of the cutting edge of Android tablet integration. Aside from flexibility – the home screen can be customised as extensively as one wishes, and an unlimited number of home screens is allowed – access to the Play Store means more than a million apps. It’s not the number that’s impressive; it’s the fact that almost any functionality the user needs will be available in either a paid or free version.

The Windows Store is still catching up to that level of choice, but the Mecer offers something more basic as well as more compelling for the professional user: the traditional Windows desktop. Once the keyboard is clipped in, the user can comfortably dip below the tiled interface into the desktop – although the screen allows that on its own, too, albeit through touchscreen controls. 

With the keyboard, it functions almost the same way Windows 7 did, providing tremendous comfort to the traditional Windows and Microsoft Office user. This means that Office products function as they do on a standard laptop

It comes down to that choice then: the fun and flexibility of Android, or the professional needs and productivity of Windows. The keyboards mean, however, that both become tools for productivity rather than fun and fighting.

Either way, both are great value for money, and you don’t have to identify either with the Transformers antagonists, the Autobots and Decipticons.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

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